Protecting a windswept shoreline and a variety of habitats on a barrier island off the historic coastal community of Dunedin, Caladesi Island State Park is undoubtedly one of the gems of the Florida State Parks system. It’s been named the top beach in the United States, thanks to its quiet and remote location, the view unsullied by condos or construction. It’s a wild place, with virgin pine forests, estuaries with a salty tang, and mangrove swamps. And it’s only half of what it used to be. In 1921, an unnamed hurricane sliced Hog Island in two, calving Caladesi Island from Honeymoon Island. Since then, the sands of the Dunedin Pass filled in, so the island isn’t—you can walk to Clearwater Beach from here, albeit a long walk. But it’s still a splendid, remote place to explore.
Most folks come here to sun and swim, but the trail system shouldn’t be missed. The trails wind 3.5 miles around the island, immersing you in its high points—coastal scrub, the virgin slash pine forest, the mangrove swamp, and the dunes.
Length: 3.5 mile trail system
Lat-Long: 28.032314, -82.820700
Fees / Permits: State Park entrance fee
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: low to moderate
Restroom: Yes, at marina
Starting from Dunedin, drive north on US 19A to SR 589 (Causeway Blvd); turn left and follow the causeway 2.8 miles to the Honeymoon Island State Park entrance. After you pay your entrance fee, continue along the park road to the first left and park. Take the ferryboat from here. Reservations recommended; call 727-734-1501. The ferry costs $9 per adult, $5.50 ages 4-12, in addition to your park entrance fee. If you take the ferry, plan adequate time to both hike the trail and enjoy the beach before the last ferry leaves for the day.
You can also walk to the park, 4 miles north along Clearwater Beach, entering the trail system from the Beach Trail; you’ll still have to pay the state park fee. Or approach on your own by water. Rent a kayak along the causeway and paddle to the docks at Caladesi Island. By boat, from channel marker #14, just west of the Dunedin Causeway Bridge, take an approximate 212´degree heading on your compass for approximately 1 mile and follow the channel markers into the marina.
After a brief ferryboat ride winding through mangrove islands along Dunedin Sound, you arrive at the Caladesi Island dock. Most visitors pile out and head straight down the boardwalk for the beach, but being an inquisitive hiker, you’d like to see the rest of the island first. This particular walk around the trail system takes 2.9 miles, but other configurations of hikes are possible. All of them start with the Island Trail.
Walk up the boardwalk and around the back of the concession stand, following the boardwalk into the beach scrub with its scattered cabbage palms. Just before you reach the “Along the Waterfront” kiosk at a T intersection of boardwalks, look for the “Island Trail” sign. Turn left. The trail meanders into the coastal scrub. At 0.2 mile, there is a trail guide box on the left. When you cross the jeep trail with the “Shortcut to Beach” sign at 0.6 mile, continue straight across.
After a mile of hiking, you reach a sign with a hiker symbol. Bear right, and turn left to follow the Hammock Loop. Walk softly along this cathedral of pines, one of Central Florida’s last remaining strands of virgin slash pine. Veering down to the left, you catch sight of the glimmering waters of Dunedin Pass. Enjoy a moment along the shore.
At 1.3 miles, you come to a tannic pond—a natural freshwater spring, the largest source of water on the island, with the remnants of a historic homestead nearby. The trail rises through the hammock back up into the pine flatwoods, passing through a seasonally wet area, before it completes the Hammock Loop. Turn right at the “Nature Trail” sign, and make an immediate left onto the Beach Trail.
A sign at the 2-mile mark indicates the marina is off to the left, back along the Shortcut Trail. Continue straight. The trail veers left, crossing over a bridge over a mangrove-lined canal and lagoon. Examine the mangroves closely for Louisiana heron, reddish egret, snowy egrets, and the rare but beautiful roseate spoonbill. Continue down the trail to the beach, walking between the windswept sea oats atop tall sand dunes. Turn right. Walk 0.5 mile up the beach until you reach a boardwalk, which leads you back to the beginning of the Island Trail.